Friday, February 04, 2011

WoW Killer

A friend asked me tonight if something will eventually knock World of Warcraft off its perch as top dog and what such a game would look like. I do think eventually something will replace WoW as the 500 pound gorilla in its niche. And here I'm talking about the particular genre this game dominates; in terms of numbers alone, Farmville appears to clean WoW’s clock. But the games are so different in style, content, and business model, that it really doesn't make sense to compare them directly. And I suspect, in terms of raw income, but World of Warcraft still does better than Farmville. I'd love to see some numbers on this.

So what will the WoW killer look like? First, I do think Guild Wars 2 is barking up the right tree with their new classes. Giving everyone the ability to shift between tank, healer, crowd control, etc. is brilliant. It makes it a lot easier to put together a team to tackle any adventure. Once you've abandoned niche protection, you can then focus a lot more on what matters to the players. Play style is almost certainly the way to go. Making one class be about fast, precise clicking, and another about preset macros, and a third about positioning, and other such considerations makes a lot more sense.

Easing the grind is also key. WoW got rid of standing in line for your chance to kill the orc king. That's not fun for anybody. Replacing the grind with more interesting quests is probably the way to go here, and I think BioWare’s Old Republic MMOG will be the model in this regard. I haven't played that game either, but buzz says it has managed to capture a lot of the appeal of their single player games.

That said, don't expect story to be king. It would be extremely simple to give every player their own, unique plot and adventures. Nobody's bothered to do it yet, and that's because the players simply are not interested. Most approach quest text in this manner: "blah blah blah silver hammer. Blah blah blah five wolf pelts. Blah blah Darken Wood blah blah blah." Story is to MMOGs what those scantily clad girls serving drinks in casinos are to Vegas. They are an essential part of the window dressing, but nobody is under any illusions they are why the crowd has come. The folks most interested in story are quite happy with their free-form gaming; those who want to charge them $10 a month have nothing to interest them.

The graphics will continue to avoid rigorous realism, though I doubt the game that replaces WoW will look quite as cartoony. It will probably include neat cross-class combos like Dragon Age did. It will almost certainly be fantasy, and will absolutely be combat focused. It probably won't have much, if any, crafting system. It will be even more amusement park in its geography than even World of Warcraft. I suspect that no character over 10th level or so will ever really die; they will simply enter some form of bloodied or half-dead status in which they can escape to try again later.

Whatever it looks like, I seriously doubt I will be interested in playing it. It's been many years since I've been tempted to play a Diku MUD, graphical or otherwise. Most of the blame can be laid on the topics discussed in the story paragraph above. A game that wants to tackle those topics may attract my attention. I'm not holding my breath.


Nope said...

The WoW killer will enable the players to effectively create their own quests and these quests should have a meaningful cause and effect to the game world.

Anonymous said...

It is doubtful that anything will kill WoW except Blizzard's eventual decision to stop producing new content for the game in favor of supporting whatever their next massive project is.

Nothing can kill WoW, because WoW isn't static. It's an evolving game with one of the most agile, professional companies in the industry behind it. When a new MMO is released with features that might draw customers away from WoW, Blizzard is already working on taking the best aspects of the new game and working them into WoW's next update.

To beat WoW, you'd have to develop a game that is more fun than WoW, predicated on features that cannot be replicated in WoW.

@Aberrant Hive Mind: That is not going to happen. The ability to simulate a world like that while simultaneously keeping things interesting isn't something we're anywhere close to being able to do. Scripting quests is still the way to go, and will be for a long, long time.

trollsmyth said...

Anonymous: I'm not really talking about killing WoW; heck, even UO is still alive and kicking. I'm just talking about knocking it off its perch as the biggest MMOG in the West.

Telecanter said...

It probably won't have mass audience appeal, but it seem these multiplayer games are missing the whole point of multiplayer-- that story can emerge from other humans.

This solves AI problems, this solves simplistic repetitive quests. I'm not just talking about PvP, but limiting some resource and watch real human intelligences jockey for control. See the Goonswarm wars in Eve as an example. There was espionage, multi-time zone strategy, and delegation of duties. Was fascinating to read about (if maybe not so fun to play for that particular game).

trollsmyth said...

Telecanter: Yep, but the fact that we're not talking about Eve (which follows a lot of the design principles I thought best way back when) or Dark Age of Camelot I think speaks volumes for player interest in that sort of self-generating content.

The primary difficulty in most such endeavors boils down to people's willingness to tolerate player-generated trouble. If the mods turn a town to rubble and fill it with zombies, it's a cool event. If another player, or group of players, turns a town to rubble and fills it with zombies, it's griefing.

This is one area where traditional RPGs have a leg-up on free-form gaming. Most free-form games are so egalitarian that nobody is authorized to create conflict, and so you have this rather bland, zero-sum day-to-day thing going on that is, frankly, boring. A GM, on the other hand, can do all sorts of nasty things and it's fun due to their status as "not a player."

LoneIslander said...

I'm just sick of wow in general. Sick of the people, sick of the system. Hell I think I'm just sick of MMORPGS over all at this rate.

Anonymous said...

I think nothing will be the WoW killer, it'll just be gaming tastes splitting off. When will WoW be no longer worth keeping alive? Who knows.

I think what'll happen is just what happened with WoW in the first place. A bunch of awesome games will come out, one game company will figure out how to blend all their good ideas together and get rid of as many bad ones as they can, and make a single game that is gamer brain-cocaine. Er, except cocaine, which is already brain-cocaine.

And I think Blizzard is well-positioned to make that game. It'll come out in five years to a decade or so. If Blizzard doesn't do it it'll be because they refused to part with their WoW vision or they for whatever reason weren't light enough on their feet to succeed. They certainly have enough money.

Anonymous said...

Trollsmyth: that is an awesome idea. You could have a game where there are human GMs who spend all their time mucking things up and making it fun. Oh look, winter weather is unusually bad this week! Oh look, now wolves are descending from the mountains! Avalanche! A necromancer has dug up the whole graveyard! The Rat King has taken control of the sewers! The only NPC armorer in town died of tongue pox! etc.

Of course these changes would have to be big for it to be worth their time. Each GM change affects several hundred or thousand players. But it would be just a ridiculous whirlwind of random bullshit caltrops on the staircase, starving goblin raiding parties, and supplementary amounts of wild ass.

I think it would be hilarious and awesome, never boring, and could shake up the games where you never really lose anything when you die.

Nope said...

Like I said, player created quests. If FPS games can create mega killing machine bots, computer npcs could possibly have some dimension added to play by creating goals. Recruiting hirelings and attracting followers, building strongholds and shit. User generated content will always be king in online communities

The biggest problem I can see is the concern on the developers part to make the game balanced. Fuck it. make it deadly. make dire consequences. make players have to deal with the consequences if they decide to run around like a maniac murdering townspeople and ganking newbs. Give mmorpgs some balls rather than worrying about the users crying in their cereal when they lose their level 76 troll paladin.

So like I said. Player created quests.

Tim Jensen said...

Like every other mass-market computer game has, WoW is getting old. It's a great game, but it doesn't appeal to all would-be game players, and the last decade's trend of D&D-inspired fantasy will cycle out of popularity again.

Keep an eye on the changing technologies and culture of electronic gaming. PCs are on the decline; tablets and smartphones are on the rise. Casual games like Farmville and independent powerhouses like Minecraft are cool. In other words, there are probably multiple "next WoWs" coming, appealing to different demographics. Different people like different things, and players of these newer games don't care how WoW is doing.